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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Keep Balance In Your Life

I teach yoga to veterans who have PTSD and other problems. One of the biggest problems I see among this group is Parkinson's disease. I don't know exactly know why but it seems to be a prevalent problem especially among Viet Nam veterans. My hunch is these people were exposed to Agent Orange, a defoliant that was sprayed from planes, helicopters, and from the ground to kill plants so troops could hunt out the Viet Cong more easily. When I was there I saw planes fly over dropping this stuff not only on the forests but troops and natives on the ground.

Some 20 million gallons of this highly toxic liquid was dropped in South Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia and one million people were affected in some way or another. Nerve damage, skin lesions, cancer, lung problems, and birth defects are just some of the problems these people experience.

Teaching yoga to someone with Parkinson's is not easy. Not only do they have tremors but they are also plagued with tremendous fatigue, slow reaction time, muscle aches, many emotional problems and problems with balancing and walking. Yoga and meditation helps them with all of these problems.

After class I am often asked, "What can I do between classes?" My response is to practice balancing on one leg using a chair for support. Balancing encourages focus and immediately brings one into the present moment. Feeling the weight of the body on the bottom of the foot and isolating exactly where on the foot pressure is felt, brings your focus to that very small area of the body - a few square inches somewhere on the bottom of the foot.

By focusing on that small area on the sole of the foot while being aware of the breath and the body in space takes tremendous concentration for any normal person. It takes even more concentration for someone with Parkinson's. 

Propreception or positioning, sometimes called the "sixth" sense, that tells you where your body is in space can be enhanced through this simple practice of balancing on one foot. For special needs people, like Parkinson's patients, holding onto the back of a chair is necessary in the beginning. As practice continues, there may be no need for the use of a chair.

When a chair is no longer needed the next step is to balance with both feet together, on the ground, with the eyes closed. The goal is to balance for one minute without too much wavering. To do this exercise someone needs to be standing by to measure wavering and to help in case the balancer begins to fall.

This is one of the biggest components of yoga - being with the body and the breath while being aware and relaxed. "Asana must have the dual qualities of alertness and relaxation." Yoga Sutra 2.46.

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